Together We Heal is for any who suffer from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. We provide a safe forum for survivors of abuse to share, learn and heal. We work to expose sexual predators and their methods of getting into our lives.
What if I told you that the people who own the property where you live knowingly hired a convicted sexual predator and they don’t have to tell you?
What if I told you a convicted sex offender has the keys to your front door and you were powerless to know or stop them from having access?
Unbelievably, I may have just described your home if you rent in Florida, and many other homes across the USA.
Even though in Florida, as in most states, sex offenders are prohibited from living within a certain distance from schools, playgrounds and other places where children gather; what they CAN do, is work where your children play and live, without your knowledge. And that’s not the worst of it.
Under Florida law, owners of rental apartments and homes are NOT required to warn you or your family that an employee at the property is a pedophile or sex offender. Children in Florida have been raped by sex offenders who were literally provided the keys to rental units, where the owner knew that the employee was a convicted sex offender. You and your family have the right to make an informed choice of whether to live in housing that employs convicted
It is because of the irrational and dangerous law as written, that Linda and I ask for your support of “The Florida Sex Offender Rental Notification Act.”
Below you will find a link. Help us to set Florida Law requiring tenants be notified when property owners employ sex offenders.
Sometimes, not always, I get so tired of fighting a battle with those who are supposed to be the one doing the protecting…
Sometimes, not always, I get so tired of losing said battles to churches, fundamentalist “Christians” and other so-called “people of faith” who seem only to care about the money in their church coffers and potential lawsuits against their precious denominations. Tragically and simultaneously these same folks don’t appear to give a rat’s ass about the innocence, lives and souls of children…
It feels like everyday we turn on the news and hear of another case. This week was no different with Josh Duggar from the TLC show, “19 Kids and Counting” and the news he admitted to sexually abusing at least 5 girls in his family.
It’s 6:24 am and I’m tired. No that doesn’t accurately describe how I’m feeling. In truth, I’m exhausted. Exhausted because I’ve been awake since around 4 a.m., due to screaming myself awake from ANOTHER nightmare of seeing Frankie Wiley’s face over mine and feeling him holding my childhood frame down while he sexually abused me over and over, just as he did for almost 3 years.
I have no doubt this was triggered from the reports of the Duggar family doing more to protect the offender than the victims. Much the same way I feel how the Southern and Georgia Baptist Convention treats myself and countless others who’ve fallen prey to predators they continue to protect.
The only solace I had this morning was my beloved wife, Linda. Because of her, I was once again gently awakened with her loving touch and soothing voice before the nightmare became too much for me to handle.
She asked if I wanted to talk about but at that moment it was simply too much. So I’m doing now what I’ve always done since I began therapy for the sexual abuse I endured, I write. It’s one of my few true releases from the torture, torment and pain.
And in some small way I hope it reveals to other victims/survivors who’ve been through a similar trauma that they are not alone, that we are not alone…that I am not alone…
With every post or article I publish, I try to extend some measure of hope and potential for healing for what we’ve been through. And this one will be no different. It’s just that in the moment I’m too tired to feel like much of an encouragement. Instead, this time I sure would like to hear from you. To hear you say, I know what you mean David.
Over the next 2 weeks I’ll be standing in front of countless numbers of parents, guardians and other adults, looking to me for answers. And I will provide guidance, solutions and direction. I will do so with confidence, conviction and courage. But right now, at this very moment I’m just tired, hurting and scared.
Thank you to all of my friends, family and fellow survivors and advocates. It’s because of y’all I can manage to move forward on my own healing path. And for this same reason you can too.
Thank you for “listening” to me today. This is another example of why it’s so VERY important that we all be there for one another. We all need each other because as we say here…
Not alone, but…together we heal…
Thank you to our TWH family. You mean so very much to me. You’ve helped me through and to overcome so much. This is the 8th year since I first came forward about having been sexually abused as a child and in October I will celebrate 10 years of being clean from narcotics. None of this would’ve been possible without your love and support and I genuinely love and appreciate you all from the core of my being and bottom of my heart.
Feeling Alone, it’s a familiar feeling. It’s altogether too familiar. As a survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA), I struggled for decades with it. I had it twisted around me like a straight-jacket of discomfort. The result was a never-ending quest for love and acceptance in all the wrong places with none of the right people.
This desperate pursuit eventually had me asking many questions about myself and my life.
Is that why I spent so many years seeking intimacy through empty sexual encounters?
Is that why I would take enough narcotics to drop a work mule and then get out on the road looking for party after party, person after person, hook-up after hook-up, connection after connection.
After I reread that last sentence it dawned on me. It’s that’s word, “connection”. I was looking for a true connection but in the most vile of environments, from the least genuine of people, and in the sketchiest of places with the most dangerous of drugs.
Sadly, when I’d meet a decent person, I’d find a way to sabotage whatever connection was made.
Over the last few years I’ve learned there are different types of “survivors” of CSA. First, there’s the type who grew up with abuse being so much a part of their lives, having no memory of life without it, that it was their “norm”. The second type consists of those who had, up until the abuse began, some sort of “regular” childhood. Once the abuse began, everything changed. Either they became withdrawn or they acted out, with combinations and variations of the two.
From listening to fellow survivors stories, It’s been my understanding that it depended on how old they were when the abuse began, how many years it lasted, who their abuser(s) were, plus a multitude of other factors. But please don’t misunderstand, whether the abuse occurred once or a thousand times, victims are left feeling alone.
To anyone looking at my life, I gave the appearance as if all was fantastic in my world! It would seem as if nothing so evil and certainly crimes so heinous could not be happening to me. After all, my abuser had total control over me. He was in the position of both male AND spiritual authority over me. In essence, he had possession of my mind, body and soul. He convinced me that no one would believe me anyway. And on top of that, the time and place where I grew up, we did not talk about anything negative and we certainly didn’t tell anyone else outside the family about such things. Who am I kidding, we didn’t even tell our family.
For the three years the sexual abuse occurred, no one knew what my youth minister, Frankie Wiley was doing to me, or to any of the boys he was molesting, abusing and raping at the same time. And since all of us felt we were the only ones to which it was happening, we felt completely alone. As I said, a feeling that would become more familiar than any other, and the driving force behind my desire to be loved, to be wanted, to feel “warm and fuzzy”, as the sex and narcotics both temporarily and falsely made me feel.
So as victims of these crimes, what do we do with this feeling of being “alone”? I have described how I dealt with it for the better part of 30 years. In doing so, I destroyed multiple careers, many relationships and almost lost my life.
Once I finally got clean and removed the fog of narcotics hanging over me, I was able to seek the help of one-on-one counseling and support groups that taught me proper coping skills. Now I know what to do when “triggered” or when I become overcome with the guilt, shame and self-blame associated with being sexually abused. I was also very fortunate to have a family willing to help me when I came forward about the abuse. Not everyone is so lucky. They assisted me in getting clean by keeping food in my belly and a roof over my head while I got my head clear.
I’m so thankful for all those who have helped me in the past and still help me to this day. And the reason I’m telling you all of this is to let my fellow survivors and their loved ones know what I’ve learned…help, healing and recovery are all possible.
As many of you know, I’m now married to the most amazing woman who loves me for who I am. Together, we work with victims and survivors. We see their healing begin and are witness to lives changing on a weekly basis.
I am now even able to be an active member of a church again. Having been abused by a minister, I had sworn at one time never to darken the doors of any religious institution. In my heart at that time, I believed God had allowed this and I hated Him for it. I eventually understood there was only one person to blame for the pain; my abuser, Frankie Wiley. And I see clearly now from his actions, he is not a Christian. A true Christian would not sexually abuse multiple boys at various churches over decades of time. Nor should I discount my belief because of what this sexual predator did to me and so many other little boys. I have decided not to allow his crimes to prevent me from receiving joy and peace from my belief.
My life now is one I had not dreamed possible. But when I opened my mind and heart to hope and healing, I began to finally experience what is possible for us all.
And that’s why I want all survivors to know THIS story, MY story, can be THEIR story. Turning your life into one that is both productive and fulfilling is within your reach, if only you’ll reach out to those willing to help you.
We are here to help. And together, we can truly heal.
The following was posted on August 30th, 2014 at our friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian’s blog, “Rhymes With Religion”. Boz has been a consistent advocate for children from his time as a prosecutor to his current position as the founder of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment),
Being a grandson of Billy Graham, one would reasonably assume the work he does would be welcomed at churches, especially Southern Baptist, whose numbers are an approximate 15.75 million among 46,000 congregations.
We are learning, quite tragically, most churches only do the work of eradicating sexual predators in their midst when forced to do so. And even then, seldom to never is there any acceptance of responsibility or “heaven” forbid an actual apology to the victims and their families. Even more egregious are the few times a conviction for sex crimes against a child are secured.
Thankfully there are groups like GRACE, SharedHope, Together We Heal and others doing what we would all expect and should demand of the Church – protect children and care for those who’ve fallen victim to this most heinous of crimes. But until that occurs, we will continue to do the work. Our children are worthy of and owed protection; and survivors of the trauma of childhood sexual abuse deserve to be cared for and shown compassion and love.
Thank you Boz and thank you SharedHope for the work you do to advocate for all children and those already harmed by the wickedness of sexual predators and those who protect and defend the indefensible.
In the past few years, a there has been a growing interest amongst many Americans in raising awareness and combatting the international commercial sexual exploitation of children. This is when an adult solicits or engages in a sexual act with a child in exchange for something of value. Many incredible individuals and organizations are focusing on this global horror and are beginning to make a real difference in the lives of untold numbers of vulnerable children around the world. Only recently are our eyes beginning to open to the ugly fact that this evil also permeates in the small towns and big cities of this nation. This has been clearly evidenced in a report released this past week by SharedHope, a Christian organization that is combating sex trafficking and serving abuse survivors. The Demanding Justice Report is one of the first comprehensive studies of its kind that examines the domestic commercial sexual exploitation of children. The heartbreaking and eye-opening findings of this study are a loud call to action to every American. Especially to those of us who call ourselves Christ followers.
Everyone should take the time to read this report. In this short post, I want to highlight just a small sample of its findings and what they mean for those of us who are a part of a faith community:
Who are the buyers? The age of those who commit these sexual offenses against children ranged from 18-89 years of age, with the average age being 42. Ninety-nine percent of these offenders were male. In the cases where the profession of the perpetrator was available, over 65 percent were in professions of authority such as attorneys, police officers, and ministers. Fifty-six percent were identified as working in occupations that had regular access to children, including teachers, coaches, and youth service organizations.
Who are the victims? Of the cases studied, almost 80 percent of the child victims were female. Approximately 10 percent of the victims were under the age of eleven, while almost 42 percent were between the ages of 11 and 15. The rest were between the ages of 16 and 18. In at least five of the cases reviewed during this study, children who were abused were actually charged with prostitution! Surprisingly, in only a small number of the cases were the young victims identified as being a runaway.
How do perpetrators access the child victims? The study found that the most common way those who engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of children access their prey is through direct contact in person, via text message, email, or phone. In almost 50 percent of the studied cases, the perpetrator was given access to the child through a third party such as a parent, older sibling, or a pimp.
What happens to buyers who get caught? This report studied four large urban locations and identified 134 cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children offenses. Of those cases, 118 were officially prosecuted.
Unfortunately, only 44 of those prosecuted cases resulted in convictions for offenses related to the commercial sexual exploitation of children. For example, 38 of the perpetrators arrested for paying to engage in sexual contact with a child were only convicted of a prostitution solicitation offense!
What does our society communicate to child sexual abuse offenders when they get caught and only get charged with a prostitution related offense? Even worse, what are we communicating to precious children when they learn that the adult who violated them merely got convicted of soliciting a prostitute?
Only five percent of the 118 prosecuted cases resulted in the defendant receiving a sentence that included incarceration. This means that 95 percent of the buyers who were prosecuted for some form of commercial sexual exploitation of a child never served a day behind bars!
This past week, I have spent a bit of time struggling with what these extremely disturbing results mean to those of us who identify ourselves as Christians? Though I am still struggling, here are just a few of my initial thoughts that I’d like to share:
We often think of the commercial sexual exploitation of children being perpetrated by large organized trafficking rings upon children who are almost exclusively runaways. Though that is tragically true in way too many cases, this report seems to indicate that this abuse is being perpetrated by the adults in our community that we least expect upon children that we so often assume are not at risk. This report opens our eyes to the grave reality that the commercial sexual exploitation of children has no boundaries. All children are at risk.
There is little doubt that those who will pay money to sexually victimize a child are not limited to just those whom they pay to abuse. For every lawyer, doctor, coach, teacher, or pastor who is paying for sexual contact with a child, one can only wonder how many are doing so without the need to pay anything. This tells me that the prevalence of this heinous crime is far greater than we can determine. Furthermore, this study reminds us of how it is very common for perpetrators to intentionally seek out professions of trust and that most make direct contact with their victims in person, or using some form of technology. Do we truly grasp these alarming realities about dangerous adults who are members of our faith communities? If so, what if anything is the Church going to do about it? Aren’t we the Church?
This report confirms the horror that no age is off limits to those who sexually assault children. We are also exposed to the lesser-known horror that a large number of these child victims are being delivered into the hands of offenders by their very own family members. Do we truly grasp these dark realities about the precious child victims who are members of our faith communities? Should we not be equally concerned about the children who are outside of our faith communities? If so, what if anything is the Church going to do about it? Aren’t we the Church?
As a former prosecutor, I was extremely bothered to learn that so few offenders are sent to prison for raping children in exchange for money. What does it say about a culture when an adult who pays to sexually victimize a child is only charged with prostitution solicitation? What does it say about a culture that actually prosecutes sexually victimized children as prostitutes? Do we truly grasp these dark realities that demonstrate such little concern about those who sexually exploit children? If so, what if anything is the Church going to do about it? Aren’t we the Church?
Questions are a certainly a good starting point. However, simply asking questions isn’t enough. It’s too easy for many of us to feel like we have sufficiently responded to these dark realities by simply asking tough questions. In my experience, questions that are not followed up by actions are nothing more than indifference hiding behind a pretty mask. As Christians, we embrace a different reality. A reality about a God who doesn’t simply respond to the dark realities with questions. He actually poured himself out to the point of death in order to bring light to that darkness. That is the beautiful redemption story. Our response to this mind-blowing truth is to follow Jesus into the dark realities as we pour our own lives out in actions that will make a difference. Actions that expose the dark deeds of offenders, protect and serve children, and help to transform a culture that all too often protects those who must be punished and punishes those who must be protected.
May each question propel us forward into action. It’s time to get moving.
This article can be viewed at its original location here:
My wife Linda and I had the privilege of talking with Rachel Grant, author and Beyond Surviving extraordinaire! In this episode Rachel explains the “3 Stages of Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse”. This is a can’t miss show! Please set aside some time to listen, learn and gain insight on how to truly begin to heal!
Thank you Rachel for all you do to help survivors and for being a tireless advocate and friend!
And please go to Rachel’s site – http://rachelgrantcoaching.com – for helpful information on how she can help you move further along in the healing process!
We were honored to be the guest on the radio show, “Dare To Be Authentic”, founded by author and Life Coach, Mari Mitchell-Porter.
This episode is one full of hope and encouragement for those who have suffered the devastation of childhood sexual abuse and has valuable information for parents to keep children safer from sexual predators.
Please take a few minutes to listen and then check out her site below:
Recently I had the pleasure of having breakfast with my friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian. I’m so thankful for the friendship he and I have developed and while talking he gave me one more reason to be thankful. He brought to my attention something I had not given enough consideration. It’s from his insight this article originated.
We were discussing the reasons behind why I didn’t say something about my abuse and why other survivors don’t tell or speak up while the abuse is occurring. During the conversation I told him something my mom had said to me. He stopped me and said it was important and to say it again.
He asked if there had been any indications to anyone that the abuse that was happening. I told him about one man in my life who had been a positive, male role-model for me. When I was about 13, he was talking with my mom about my abuser (but at this time no one knew) and said, “there’s something that’s not quite right about that guy spending all this time with those boys. I can’t put my finger on it but I know there’s something that’s just not right.” To which my mom said, “If something were going on with David, he would tell me.”
It’s those last four words that bears repeating…“he would tell me”.
My mom and I have a strong and healthy bond. Because my dad was not in the picture for the first 23 years of my life, it resulted in mom and I having lots of time together and the opportunity to forge an incredible relationship that we still have to this day. I would go so far as to say it’s an uncommonly good relationship as parent/child relationships go. I remember while growing up, most of my friends saying at some point, “I just can’t talk to my mom or dad about…”. I never had that issue with my mom. We were always close and always talked about everything. I remember telling her when I had sex for the first time. I told her about the first time I used drugs. When I got arrested for said drugs, it was my mom I called to bail me out. So it’s clear you can see I’ve felt comfortable enough in telling her about the good, the bad and the ugly.
All except for one thing.
And sadly it’s that “one thing” that has resulted in the majority of the misery, struggles and pitfalls of my life.
The point I’m trying to make, is that if I had such a difficult time telling my mom about the abuse, when we were so close, how much more difficult is it for children who don’t feel as close to their parents or feel the freedom to talk with them about anything and everything? Neither my mom, nor anyone else knew about my abuse until 2006.
It’s a mistaken belief that I think most parents have. They believe, as my mom did, that if there were something wrong, their children would let them know about it. Or as I said earlier, “he would tell me”.
It’s a tragic error of belief and one that I hope to reeducate all parents. No matter how close you are, or how strong your relationship, if your child is being sexually abused, it’s almost impossible for them to tell you. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. It doesn’t mean you love them any less than other parents. It’s just beyond description how hard it is for those of us who were abused to tell anyone.
The reasons behind the “why” are as many and varied as there are individuals. We’ve discussed them previously here on the TWH blog and will do so more in the future. But for the discussion today, it’s not about the “why”, it’s about acknowledging a false assumption and correcting it.
As I said, my mom genuinely believed if someone were hurting me, I’d tell her. After all, when a student picked on me, or in one case, when a teacher was being hateful to a friend of mine with a speech impediment, I told her about that. So she had no reason to believe otherwise. Except for one important thing, back in the 70’s and 80’s, nobody talked about Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA). Back then, all we were told was, beware of strangers and “stranger danger”. It turns out, “stranger danger” is almost a myth. 90-95% of CSA happens at the hands of someone who is known, trusted and/or loved by the child. And because no one was taking about it, there was no “Oprah’s 200” , or organizations like SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, G.R.A.C.E. – Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, or Together We Heal.
Due to this lack of information and groups whose entire existence is to help survivors of CSA, parents didn’t know what signs to be looking for or signals that their children might be sexually abused. “Grooming” was a term reserved for haircuts and keeping your appearance neat. Now we know better. But sadly, parents are still waiting until it’s too late to discuss CSA with their kids. This is not a one-time conversation to have when they’re 15 or 16. By that time, it’s more likely any abuse has already occurred or is still ongoing.
In order to give your child the best chance to remain safer from sexual predators/pedophiles, parents MUST start young. They must start young and have it become a “normal” part of the routine questions asked of the child’s day. How was your day? How was school? Do you like your teachers? Has anyone made you feel uncomfortable? Has anyone touched you in a place they shouldn’t? And educating your child on what is appropriate touching is essential to the conversation.
Obviously, depending on the age of the child, there are age-appropriate terms and verbiage. But the questions need to be asked, the conversations need to take place, and all of this needs to be done EARLY and OFTEN. If not, we leave our children susceptible to the ploys of predators. We now have plenty of books, pamphlets and resources on how to have these talks with children of all ages. So please take advantage of the information my mom didn’t have, of the resources I didn’t have available. Do this so you lessen the chances of your children enduring the torture, abuse, rape, and resulting decades of emotional, mental and physical struggles. Do this so your children don’t become another statistic like I did, another 1 in 6 boys or 1 in 3 girls.
We have the information now. And now children can trust they will be believed. It’s time to back up all this talk with action. It’s time to prevent childhood sexual abuse and catch these sexual predators/pedophiles before they do any more damage. But it begins at home, it must begin early, and don’t think for one second, “he would tell me”…
The following article was written by a friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian. It has been my honor and privilege to become friends with Boz and to begin working together with his organization, G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) It’s refreshing to hear someone speak up on behalf of survivors of childhood sexual abuse, whose abuse occurred at the hands of the church. Boz does not try to defend the actions of churches who failed to protect victims; to the contrary, he wants to see real change take place within the church. Thank you Boz.
I did take the liberty of redoing his title for the purpose of emphasizing my personal perspective on how churches should begin acting. The original title is shown below.
7 Ways To Welcome Abuse Survivors In Our Churches
Churches should be some of the safest and most welcoming communities for those who have suffered from sexual abuse. Sadly, today these are some of the places survivors feel most vulnerable as they are often shamed, silenced, and judged.
This is most tragically illustrated by the case of a young girl who was sexually abused by a missionary doctor on the mission field. When she finally stepped forward and reported the abuse, the missionary leaders made this little 13-year-old girl sign a “confession” letter in which she had to acknowledge having “participated in a physical relationship” with the offender and end the letter with “…I know what I did was very wrong, and I am very sorry for it.” Years later this survivor told me that this damning letter is what shamed her into decades of feeling worthless and being silent. It doesn’t take a demand to sign a confession for a church to become an unsafe and unwelcoming place for survivors. Hurtful comments, the embracing of alleged perpetrators, the failure to offer assistance, and the pretending that this offense doesn’t exist in the Christian community are just a handful of ways that further wound survivors and drive them out of the very places that should be their refuge.
I want to share seven ways that I believe will help transform our churches into some of the safest and most welcoming communities for survivors of abuse.
Be a friend and listen: One of the best ways to serve survivors is to simply be their friend and listen. This does NOT mean we pity them and turn them into our special project. It means that we spend time with them, laugh with them, cry with them, and support them. It means that we validate them as human beings made in the image of God. It means that we don’t have all the answers, and it’s ok. Too many survivors have been traumatized by churches that fail to protect them, and then turn around and ignore them or tell them what to do. Perhaps we can help these amazing survivors shed the shame by being a safe person in a safe place.
Know the available resources: Survivors often need professional assistance to help shed the shame fueled by abuse. Becoming familiar with local resources such as qualified therapists, victims’ advocates, attorneys, and support groups will enable us to introduce them to our church communities and to any survivor who may need their services.
Acknowledge & address spiritual struggles: Those who have been sexually abused often struggle with many spiritual doubts, concerns, and questions. Criticizing or judging these struggles will only fuel more shame as survivors are pushed away from yet another unsafe place. On the other hand, offering no response or simply providing oversimplified answers can minimize the importance of these struggles in the lives of these individuals. Sometimes we answer best by simply connecting individuals with sound spiritual resources that may provide them a starting point to address their particular spiritual struggles. This can be anything from recommending a book, blog, or podcast to encouraging them to become part of an abuse-survivor support group at the church. It could also mean connecting them with a clergy member or other professional who has worked through many of these spiritual issues. Before recommending any particular spiritual resource, it is critical that we seek the counsel of Christian child-protection experts and other Christians who have the training for and experience with serving survivors. Organizations such as GRACE and Together-We-Heal are equipped to provide such assistance.
Connect with local law enforcement: Developing a relationship between our faith communities and local law enforcement is invaluable. Believe it or not, most law enforcement officers are thrilled when people in the community seek them out for advice and help. Our churches would greatly benefit from the guidance provided by law enforcement on issues such as child protection, dealing with known sex offenders, status of pending cases, and available community resources for survivors. In most cases, this as easy as calling the local law enforcement office and scheduling an appointment with the officer who supervises the investigation of abuse cases. Simply let him/her know that your church is seeking guidance on issues related to abuse. I highly recommend having a member of the church leadership be a part of this meeting. Connecting with law enforcement will communicate a strong message to the survivors in our churches that we take this issue seriously as we seek to love and protect them with excellence.
Start an abuse-survivor support group: Support groups often create safe places within our churches for survivors to be honest and vulnerable as they continue to walk the long and difficult road of healing. Giving survivors a safe place to speak freely about their abuse and struggles can offer real healing from the isolation they have experienced. When survivors know they are not alone, they can encourage one another by walking through the often difficult journey together. Though one doesn’t have to be a survivor to start such a group, I highly recommended that we seek out the invaluable input and assistance of survivors when putting together such a group. Developing and supporting this group is a powerful way a church can communicate that it values, protects, and cares for those suffering in its midst.
Develop response protocols: Work with the church leadership and outside child-advocate experts to develop a protocol for responding to abuse disclosures. How we respond to abuse disclosures is perhaps the single most important way we demonstrate value to those who have been abused. A protocol that follows the law and places the needs of the survivor first is needed in every church. I will be writing more about this in future posts.
Speak Up: We serve survivors best when we are their biggest advocates. Those who have been abused should find their greatest and most vocal supporters inside the church. Shaming, silencing, and judging have no home in a community that loves and advocates on behalf of abuse victims. Unfortunately, there are still many within the walls of the church that don’t see it that way. That is where we step in and speak up. We speak up for these amazing survivors, constantly encouraging them with our words and actions to hold their heads up high and walk away from shame and silence. We speak up because it is these unsung heroes who so often teach us, inspire us, and reflect Jesus. We speak up because Jesus speaks up for all of us. We speak up because it is our privilege.
Transforming our churches and faith communities into places of refuge for those who have been violated, judged, and marginalized is what the Gospel is all about. If God is our refuge, then our churches must be the places where these precious souls find safety and rest.
Let’s begin this transformation today…
This article was published with permission from Boz Tchividjian.
Editor’s Note: This column was posted with permission from Jerome Elam.
Behind the green curtain is where my world began to end. It was where my innocence was forever washed away in a porcelain pan filled with developer. Grainy images brought into strong relief on white paper that would become forever etched on my soul.
It all began at the age of eight when my mother enrolled me in an after school program. My parents were divorced at that time, both with demanding careers, and the time we spent together was subject to the requirements of their jobs. An after school counselor began to take a close interest in me, teaching me how to throw a football and providing the attention I so desperately craved.
Hugs turned into long embraces, and soon the counselor began to compliment me on my body. Not long after that the sexual abuse began.
I became trapped in the web of a pedophile that used psychological blackmail to cocoon my young mind in fear. He would drive me into the mountains and ask me to take my clothes off as he took photographs. Later, as he stirred the fruits of his evil intent inside a white pan, he held the image up and as smiled at me as he said, “Wouldn’t your mom like a copy of this? ”
It has been over 60 years since that day and still the painful memory of the man who stole my innocence haunts me. It became the secret that quietly devoured every moment of happiness that occurred in my life and the burden I would bear to protect my parents. I was terrified that if they found out about the pictures it would devastate them. I blamed myself and internalized anger that no child should ever experience.
That bottled up cache of emotion would release itself at points in my life. As a boy I remember smashing my bike with a hammer when the chain came off, and as an adult taking a sledgehammer to a 1965 Oldsmobile at my father’s ranch when the battery died. As I hammered away I saw only the face of my abuser, and I cried for the wounded child within me who would never know happiness.
The advent of the Internet has created the unwanted side affect of an explosion of child pornography. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that, “State and local law enforcement agencies involved in Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces reported a 230 percent increase in the number of documented complaints of online enticement of children from 2004 to 2008.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Child Victim Identification Program was created in 2002. As of December of 2013 it has received 2.2 million reports of suspected sexual exploitation and researched 104 million videos and images depicting child pornography.
In 2012, fifty year-old Peter K. Lindsley was sentenced to 114 months in prison in Texas for distribution of child pornography. An examination of his computer yielded 68,000 explicit images, the majority of which included infants.
According to Ryan C. W. Hall, MD, and Richard C. W. Hall, MD in their 2007 article, “A Profile of Pedophilia: “Studies and case reports indicate that 30 to 80 percent of individuals who viewed child pornography and 76 percent of individuals who were arrested for Internet child pornography had molested a child.”
Victims of child pornography are subjected to a continuous cycle of abuse, and as each image is viewed, their innocence is stolen all over again. The Supreme Court recently ruled that victims are entitled to restitution from anyone who possesses an image of them that meets the criteria for child pornography. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter have agreed to form a database of the most horrendous images of child abuse. The database would be in the hands of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, the charity founded by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.
Google is also pioneering technology to “fingerprint” images of child pornography so they can be tracked across the web without having to view them. The United States Department of Justice Child Obscenity and Exploitation Section (CEOS) fights the war against child pornography in conjunction with the FBI and States Attorney’s Offices around the country. They are aided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other organizations that tirelessly try to stop this plague from consuming another child’s innocence.
If you suspect a child is being victimized or find any form of child pornography please call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Cyber Tip line at 1-800-843-5678. If we all work together we can save the next child from a lifetime of pain and suffering.
I have finally found happiness and I thank God for my wife and family and for giving me the strength to heal and reclaim the childhood that was so ruthlessly stolen from me.
This article can be seen at it’s original published location here:
It’s difficult to pick up a paper, turn on the news or open up a web browser these days without seeing the latest pedophile/sexual predator whose been caught having destroyed the innocence of another child or multiple children. As my colleagues and I talked about what we had found or tried in discussing this issue with others, we came across many opinions. Some of which we dismissed, but a few we found had both merit and impact. With this in mind, we set about to cooperatively put together a guide of sorts to help each other, our peers and parents concerned on how to present this topic to the various people and children in our lives.
Together, we decided the best way to accomplish this goal was by combining the best ideas in one place. It is our hope you will take this information to heart and apply it to your daily lives with the intent of protecting all our children, alleviating some of the fears of talking about this delicate topic and put sexual predators on notice that we are on to their methods and are arming each other and our children with the most powerful of weapons…knowledge.
Chris Anderson, the Executive Director of MaleSurvivor.org, gave the following guidance to parents on speaking with their children.
“Parents need to realize that educating their children about sexuality and maintaining and protecting proper boundaries has to be a regular part of their interactions with children.
Having “the sex talk” once when a kid is about to enter adolescence isn’t sufficient, and in all likelihood leads to more children being at risk because parents don’t want to educate their own children about sex, making it all the more easier for perpetrators to manipulate and misinform their targets.
WE need to encourage parents, caregivers, teachers, and all those involved with youth to think about planting the seeds of awareness, compassion, and protection over and over and over again. Conversations about what constitutes healthy, non-manipulative relationships as well as appropriate physical and social boundaries need to be a regular part of the experience of children.
There is NO reason whatsoever that ANY parent can justify not giving their children age appropriate, correct biological terms for body parts. Penis, vagina, and anus are not dirty words.
Any adult who seems to be overly desirous of taking a child one on one should be carefully screened by parents. Who are they? Why do they want to spend so much time with a child? What are they really looking for?
Parents who empower their children to say No when they don’t feel comfortable around someone or doing something are doing the right thing. Children should not be “forced” to give hugs and kisses to relatives, they should be encouraged to say whether or not they want to.
Serial perpetrators will often screen out children who have been taught these skills because they are looking for the “soft” targets who are more easily manipulated.
The vulnerability that makes kids so easy to manipulate is borne of their need for attention and affirmative parental bonding. It’s all too easy for many parents to try and find ways to encourage their kids to leave them alone and entertain or distract themselves. Too often, this actually leads children to seek what they are not getting from their parents from others who know all too well how to manipulate a child into doing what they want.
Perhaps the last point is that grooming thrives where secrecy, shame, and ignorance are in full effect. Any parent that encourages their children to always disclose when they feel uncomfortable about someone or something, AND who makes it clear that the child will never be in trouble for doing so is already doing a great deal to protect their children. ”
This is obviously valuable advice. So we thought, what about the folks who find it challenging talking to either their children or even peers about childhood sexual abuse? How can we help them overcome or work through it? The folks at Samaritans.org had an amazing piece on just this issue.
How to Start a Difficult Conversation
Often people want to talk, but wait until someone asks how they are. Try asking open questions, like ‘What about happened about…’, ‘Tell me about…’, ‘How do you feel about…’
Repeat back what they say to show you understand, and ask more questions.
Focus on your friend’s feelings instead of trying to solve the problem – it can be of more help and shows you care. Respect what they tell you. Sometimes it’s easy to want to try and fix a person’s problems, or give them advice. Let them make their own decisions.
1) How do I start a conversation with someone I’m concerned about?
You might feel that you don’t know how to help someone, because you don’t know what to tell them or how to solve their problems. You don’t need to be an expert. In fact, sometimes people who think they have the answers to a problem are less helpful. Don’t forget that every person is different, so that what worked for one will not always work for another.
2) Find a good time and place
Think about where and when to have the conversation before you start.
Choose somewhere where the other person feels comfortable and has time to talk.
3) Ask gentle questions, and listen with care
You might feel that you don’t know how to help someone, because you don’t know what to tell them. But you shouldn’t tell them anything. Telling doesn’t help. The best way to help is to ask questions. That way you leave the other person in control. By asking questions, the person you are talking with finds his or her own answers.
4) The more open the question the better
Questions that help someone talk through their problems instead of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are the most useful. Questions like:
When – ‘When did you realize?’
Where – ‘Where did that happen?’
What – ‘What else happened?’
How – ‘How did that feel?’
Why – be careful with this one as it can make someone defensive. ‘What made you choose that’ or ‘What were you thinking about at the time’ are more effective.
At Samaritans, we call this style of conversation active listening.
5) Find out how they feel
Don’t forget to ask how this person is feeling. Sometimes people will talk you through all the facts of what happened, why it happened and what actions they are thinking of taking, but never say how they actually feel. Revealing your innermost emotions – anger, sadness, fear, hope, jealously, despair and so on – can be a huge relief. It sometimes also give clues about what the person is really most worried about.
6) Check they know where to get help
If someone has been feeling low for some time it is probably a good idea that they get some support, whether it is through talking to someone like a counsellor or getting some practical help.
Useful questions you might ask them include:
‘Have you talked to anyone else about this?’
‘Would you like to get some help?’
‘Would you like me to come with you?’
Or, for someone who is reluctant to get help:
‘Do you have someone you trust you can go to?’
‘If it helps, you can talk to me any time.’
You can also suggest to your friend that the following sources of help may be useful:
The Good Men Project
7) Respect what they tell you, don’t pressure them
8) If they don’t want help, don’t push them. Sometimes it’s easy to want to try and fix a person’s problems, or give them advice.
It’s usually better for people to make their own decisions. Help them think of all the options, but leave the choice to them. Being there for them in other ways, like through socializing or helping with practical things, can also be a great source of support.
9) If you say the wrong thing, don’t panic
There is no perfect way to handle a difficult conversation, so don’t be too hard on yourself if it didn’t go as well as you had hoped. If you feel able to, put things right: “Last week I said … and I realize now that was insensitive so I’m sorry. What I meant to say was …”
10) Show you understand
Ask follow-up questions and repeat back the key things your friend has told you, using phrases like ‘So you’re saying…’, ‘So you think…’.
11) Look after yourself, and talk to someone too
Hearing someone else’s worries or problems can affect you too. Take time for yourself to do the things you enjoy, and if you need to talk, find somebody you trust to confide in. If you promised not to tell anyone else, you can call us, and we’ll keep it private. Don’t take on so much of other peoples’ problems that you yourself start feeling depressed.
In addition to Chris’ message to parents, we chose an article published by David Pittman of Together-We-Heal.org – It’s a straightforward, 7-step process for parents to speak to their children about sexual abuse. Interestingly enough, you will see some similar advice, and it’s clear this is no accident. Both men are survivors of childhood sexual abuse and having been through such a traumatic time in their lives, it makes sense they would have similar advice on how they wished they had been counseled as kids.
How To Talk With Your Children About Sexual Abuse
I was once given some advice from a person much older and wiser than myself: “If a child is old enough to ask the question, they are old enough to get the truth.” There is, however, a way to present truth in a way that neither scares the child nor impedes their ability to openly communicate with the adult about “delicate” subject matter.
The following is a combined list of different suggestions on ways to talk to your children about sexual abuse. The sources for this information are Together We Heal, The Joyful Heart Foundation, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, FamilyWatchDog.com, The Center for Behavioral Intervention in Beaverton, Oregon, and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s: Convicted Sex Offender Web Site, as well as my own personal recommendations based on personal experience.
1) Start Young
Talk openly and often with your children about sexual development, behavior and abuse. Keep in mind that if you discuss sexual development with your children appropriately from a very young age, they will not be embarrassed by the subject matter and will be less vulnerable to the grooming tactics of many child molesters.
Children who do not have their curiosity satisfied do not stop asking, they simply start looking elsewhere for their answers. After all, who do you want educating your children about sex and sexuality…you or their friends and Madison Avenue?!?
Starting young is not damaging. Parents believe that somehow it is inappropriate for them to be discussing such things with young children. If a child has a curiosity about something, it does not damage them to know the truth. Truth is never wrong! Truth is never damaging! While they are young is a healthy time for children to know the answers. It is the best time. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is waiting until the teenage years to address issues of sexuality.
Rather than trying to wait until a time when you are beginning to lose control of your children, confront the issues now. Make sure you spend the first 12 years of your child’s life laying out a stable framework for your children to build their ideals and morals from. Don’t wait until they are 13 and riddled with urges to start addressing the issue of healthy sexual relationships.
The key to this is what my friend and colleague, Rachel Grant, calls “normalizing” the conversation. What we mean by that is, for example, a “normal” talk with your child would be, “how was practice today, or do you need any help with your homework?” So just as normally as you bring up those topics, so also ask them, “Has anyone made you feel uncomfortable at school today?” “Has anyone approached you or touched you in a way that made you feel upset?” The more normal you make the conversation, the more likely they are to open up to you and talk about it.
Instill these concepts when they are young. Confronting the tough issues and encoding the morals you would like your children to have as a foundation begins at birth, and that includes sexuality.
2) Use Proper Terminology
Use proper names or semi-proper names for body parts (penis and vagina), and phrases like: private parts are “private and special”. Research shows that children who know the proper words for their body parts are less likely to be sexually abused than children who are not. Teaching a child that body parts are so embarrassing and shameful to talk about that they need silly nicknames makes it much more likely that a child will not tell you if someone touches them inappropriately. When a child knows the proper names, it puts a predator on notice that there is an atmosphere of openness and dialogue in a home and that if they harm your child, it is more likely to be discovered and disclosed.
Take the time to rehearse with your spouse/partner or any adult that will give you a truthful critique and be patient. This is not the time to rush through or skim over the parts that make you feel uncomfortable. Just imagine that if you have a difficult time talking with the adult, what will it be like when you talk with your child? Gather resources from organizations such as Together We Heal, Stop It Now, RAINN, Stop Abuse Campaign, Survivors Chat, MaleSurvivor.org, etc., and make notes or an outline.
Do whatever makes it easiest for you to remember the topics and keep yourself on point. Throughout the talk, your child will be asking questions that will take you in various directions so it is essential that once you answer the question you get back on track. Also consider that you may not be able to address all questions at once. Be honest with your child if they ask you a question that you do not have the answer. Tell them the truth. Let them know that you need to find the answer and let them know later.
4) No Secrets and No Private time with Adults/Children
Teach your child not to keep secrets and that no one should ask your child to keep a secret from you. Teach your child that there are happy surprises which we are going to tell people about soon (like birthday presents or the ending to a story your brother is reading), but that we don’t have secrets that we’re not allowed to tell and we don’t keep secrets that make us feel sad or worried.
Avoid one child‐one adult situations. 90% of all child sexual abuse occurs in situations where there is only one adult and one child present. When a child is going to have one on one time with an adult, attempt to schedule that time in observable places (like parks and restaurants). Ask your child about how things went when they were alone with an adult, child or relative. Listen for specific details and watch your child’s mood.
5) Create a “Safety Team” or “Safety Network”
Help your child create a list of their trusted adults. Give your child a copy of their list. Make sure their support “network” peoples’ phone numbers are by the telephone with and in a place that your child has easy access to. Once you and your child have made a list, let all the people on your child’s list know that they are part of this emergency network. Let them know your child has your permission to contact them and ask them if they are comfortable with this responsibility.
Let your child know that you will not be upset if they go to anyone on this list when they are scared or confused. It is very common for children to feel that they cannot speak to their parents in spite of a parent’s attempt to ease this fear. The majority of children who report sexual abuse do not report it to their parents. Sexual predators often tell their victims that what is happening is the victims’ fault; that they will get in trouble, that they will be taken away or that their parents will stop loving them and will hate them. Molesters who are related to the child also scare them into silence by telling them that no one else will take care of them if they go to jail. It is very important to talk with your children and reassure them of your unconditional love and remind them of all the people who care about them. When you take away an offender’s ability to keep his victim silent, you take away his/her power.
6) Explain How Your Child is Helping
Avoid scary details. Use language that is honest and age appropriate. Explain that no one should touch a child on the parts of their body that are covered by their bathing suit. Also let your child know that there are exceptions to this situation such as mommy or daddy helping a young child bathe, diaper changes or a doctor examining a child with their parent present.
When discussing sexual abuse with younger children, refer to sexual predators as adults with “touching problems.” These people can make “secret touching” look accidental (such as tickling or wrestling) and they should still tell you even if they think (or were told) it was an accident. This is a way for a young child to understand that an adult has an inappropriate behavior without giving your child nightmares or age-inappropriate details about what the “touching” might entail.
Tell your children that people who have touching problems need special help so they don’t continue to have problems or get into trouble. Don’t describe it as a sickness and don’t say that “bad” people do this, as most of the time the “bad” person is someone who seems good or is known to the child. Do not use words like pedophile, predator or pervert; but rather, refer to “touching problems” instead as this gives the child the ability to judge and tell you about the behavior without the understandable confusion that arises when the perpetrator is someone they love or care about.
Finally – And this step might be the most important…
7) Create a form letter that explains how you have discussed with your child/children about the issue of childhood sexual abuse and list the people in their safety network. Give a copy to each adult in your child’s life and on the list.
By notifying all of the adults in your child’s life (family, friends, teachers, coaches, and parents of your child’s friends), you have in effect warned most potential predators in your child’s life that they will be caught should they target your child for abuse or inappropriate behavior. Sex offenders generally target children where the risk of getting caught is sufficiently low. By doing this, you are telling any would-be offender that your child is prepared and as parents you are involved. If you find it challenging to create your own form letter, we have provided two templates on the together-we-heal.org website. Please feel free to print them out to use.
My hope is that you will take these tips and begin the dialogue with your child/children. Remember this also…talk WITH your child, not AT your child. Together we can work to give your children the BEST possibility of NOT being a statistic. (1 in 6 boys and 1 in 3 girls are molested and/or sexually abused/raped by the age of 18).
If you have any questions do not hesitate to contact us.
One more important piece of guidance. As Joanna Schroeder of The Good Men Project pointed out to us, instead of encouraging the person to call the police to report suspicions, it’s better to contact Child and Family Services, The Department of Children And Family Services (or whatever title that department goes by in your community). Police often won’t even make a report of suspicions, and really they don’t have the training or experience to necessarily know what to do with that kind of a report. And when they do, it is likely that they would suggest your friend contact CFS as it is. If an actual claim of abuse is made, please go immediately to your local authorities to report the crime.
There is an important reason for reporting as soon as possible. From the time the crime is committed, a clock is ticking. That clock is called the Statute of Limitations. In most states, if a crime is not reported by the ages of 18 to 23, the predator will walk away scot-free. Predators know this and it’s why we urge all victims to come forward as soon as possible.
We hope you will find this material to be an invaluable tool to keeping yourself, your friends and family and your children educated and armed with the power to combat pedophiles and sexual predators.